What do Luxembourg and China have in common? On the face of it, not much. One is a tiny and affluent European democracy; the other an authoritarian superpower of 1.4 billion people that commands nearly 12% of the world’s exports. Yet both countries rank at the bottom when it comes to policing foreign bribery.
The practice of foreign companies bribing local officials for favorable treatment corrupts the flow of commerce across international lines, according to the Berlin-based non-governmental watchdog group Transparency International. The group has warned about “a continued decline in enforcement against foreign bribery in many countries.”
To determine the countries most likely to allow foreign bribery, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Transparency International report Exporting Corruption 2022: Top trading countries doing even less than before to stop foreign bribery. Countries are grouped into four levels of enforcement: active, moderate, limited, and little or no enforcement. Within each level, we ordered countries by more detailed actions taken, such as investigations or sanctions, in the four-year period from 2018 to 2021 and by the share of global exports.
Out of the 47 countries reviewed and that are responsible for 84% of global exports, only the United States and Switzerland are considered to be actively policing foreign bribery.
In fact, the United States was the first country to enact a law to curb the practice of foreign bribery when it passed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977 — an unprecedented move at a time when it was considered standard practice for foreign companies to shower gifts on local officials in return for lucrative business contracts. By the 1990s, European countries were passing their own versions of the law, and in 2005, the United Nations’ Convention Against Corruption treaty that went into effect.
Despite this, the practice continues. In one high-profile example, Walmart Inc. paid a record $282 million in 2019 to settle an investigation into its business practices, including bribing local officials, in Mexico, Brazil, China, and India. But we only know of these cases because the U.S. is investigating, prosecuting, and sanctioning such practice. In most countries, these practices go unnoticed because of lax enforcement, if any. (Here are 30 scandals that cost companies billions in fines.)
Transparency International found that Luxembourg and China — along with India, Finland, and Bulgaria — launched no anti-bribery investigations against foreign companies from 2018 to 2021. Furthermore, 20 of the world’s countries responsible for nearly 40% of global exports have only initiated 25 investigations and imposed just six punitive sanctions in that period of time.
Countries with little or no enforcement of foreign bribery include economic behemoths like Japan and South Korea as well as less developed countries thirsty for more foreign direct investment like Hungary and Poland. (Also see, Russia is on the list of the most corrupt countries in the world.)
The latest report from Transparency International is discouraging, with only two countries improving enforcement and nine lowering enforcement, suggesting the world still has a long way to go to stamp out the practice.
Here are the countries most likely to take foreign bribes.
Click here to see our detailed methodology.
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